DU YUN: Shark in You – New Focus Recordings

by | Jun 21, 2011 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews | 0 comments

DU YUN: Shark in You – New Focus Recordings FCR118 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Du Yun’s voice has a piquant international flavor. Her style sounds like a blend of Iva Bittova (Czechloslovakia) and Björk (Iceland), with some early Yoko Ono mixed in. She coos, pouts, moans, and whispers between barely perceptible, heavily accented English words. On at least one song, “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye Remake,” she reveals a concert hall voice as powerful as Annie Lennox. Her band plays a hybrid techno-jazz, with some startling hip hop effects thrown in, like turntablism and Sprechstimme.” She makes liberal use of overdubbing and electronic effects.

I like her. She’s unpredictable enough to command repeated listening and there’s plenty of stylistic variance from song to song (and even within most songs).  “The Gray” starts in melodic ballad mode with a fixed rhythm, then speeds up unexpectedly – but not for long. Soon it reverts, states a recapitulation, and then it’s gone. “What was that?” you find yourself asking as you press the replay button.

Du Yun – whose real name is Yun Du – is a mysterious figure in the art music crowd. Look for her on YouTube and all you’ll find is a few hastily recorded garage band videos. This is her debut CD. She doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet. You can find some information about her on MySpace, like long lists of awards and musical/extra-musical influences. She plays with members of ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), the DJ Erik Spangler, classical cellist Matt Haimovitz, and jazz musicians from Shanghai.

This CD is a wild ride, well worth jumping aboard.

She is intelligent and urbane and even includes a darkly humorous short story, “An Encounter if at Noon, A Summer.” Its wry theme certainly stands out, like “The Gift” did on The Velvet Underground’s second album, White Light/White Heat (1968). She’s accompanied by piano and overdubbed vocals.

Her new New Wave bravado works most of the time. I play “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye Remake” for visitors and some end up dancing to it. Most notable about it is her complete complaisance over intelligible lyrics. In nearly every song you can make out only about 7% of the words. I wonder about the wisdom of this approach, however. When you do start picking out lyric shards, like “18 levels down” and “life isn’t pretty for a tough cookie with crumb pearls,” you realize there’s possibly more poetry within that you’re missing. Shouldn’t artists be fined for not including them in their program notes?

The disc begins and ends with short perplexing pieces, whose throwaway styles bear no resemblance to the rest of the CD so don’t be misled.

1. Intro
2. Stay
3. Shark in You
4. Panacea
5. The Gray
6. if you say so     
7. An encounter if at noon, a summer
8. Miranda
9. Life isn’t Pretty
10. Goh-Doh
11. Johnny I hardly knew ye remake
12. ps

— Peter Bates

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